Brackets for Good: Channels Tournament Hype Toward Non-profits
On April 4, 2011 while most of Indiana focused on Butler University’s heartbreaking loss in the NCAA basketball championship game for the second year in a row, two Indianapolis marketing professionals – Matt McIntyre and Matt Duncan - were inspired by the spirit that brought the whole city together to support Butler’s team.
“Everyone in Indy was bleeding blue and white and it put a magnifying glass on this small school,” said McIntyre, who worked at the time with Fishers resident Duncan in the marketing department at MOBI, a software development company. “We knew that if we could figure out how to bottle this up, we could have a marketing phenomenon.”
So, McIntyre and Duncan headed to the McIntyre’s basement while their wives stayed upstairs. “I had a whiteboard down there, so we started brainstorming ideas,” McIntyre said.
Voice of Reason
The men knew they wanted charities to benefit from whatever they ultimately came up with. While brainstorming, they realized they could only think of four Indianapolis not-for-profits and they knew there had to be more, so the first problem they set out to solve was how to help potential donors discover not-for-profits they hadn’t been aware of.
They ultimately came up with what became Brackets for Good, a fundraising championship tournament styled after the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. Not-for-profit charities are the teams.
“Donors,” said McIntyre, “are players who get in the game.”
Each round of tournament play lasts one week instead of the typical span of an evening basketball game. Every donation dollar counts as a point. In the single-elimination tournament, the charity receiving more donations than its opponent in each round advances to the next level of play. The entire tournament lasts five weeks.
“After Mac and I talked about what we thought might work, we did what we always do when we have new ideas. We pitch the idea to our wives,” Matt Duncan said. “They hear it all from us and oftentimes (more like always) they’re our voice of reason. They have no problem telling us if whatever idea we come up with is a horrible one. As we were pitching them, they kept looking at each other and finally said, ‘It isn’t awful.’ To me and Mac, that was all we needed to hear.”
McIntyre and Duncan immediately began laying the groundwork and structure for their business. They started it in 2012 as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit while still working for MOBI. The five co-founders of MOBI – Scott Kraege, brothers Michael and Christian Browning, Josh Garrett and Tony Paris - encouraged and supported their two employees in their new venture, even donating $5,000 in prize money for the first year.
The first year did not involve a tournament of 64 teams.
“We begged and pleaded with eight charities to trust us,” McIntyre said. “They did. It was a success, and we’ve expanded every year since.”
Brackets has expanded so much and so quickly that it had to develop a sophisticated scoring procedure to select the 64 teams out of the more than 300 charities that want to play in the tournament. And Indianapolis isn’t the only city where Brackets has been expanding.
In 2016, Brackets for Good tournaments were held in six cities. This year, the tournament is expanding to 11 cities along with a nation-wide tournament that will allow large charities with annual budgets of more than $2.5 million to compete against each other.
All the income for Brackets for Good comes from corporate support and sponsorships. The charities pay nothing to apply and nothing to participate in the tournament. Every dollar of every donation collected goes to the charities with the sole exception of credit card fees. For every $100 donated by credit card, Brackets for Good must pay a fee of approximately $5. The charity still receives 100 points on its score, but the net donation ends up being about $95.
“We ran Brackets for Good solely by volunteers in 2012, 13 and 14,” McIntyre said. “I jumped in as the first full-time employee in March, 2015.”
In 2016, Duncan and Reid McDowell came on board. The business still relies heavily on volunteers and interns, especially during the months leading up to the tournament and the five weeks of the tournament itself.
Brackets for Good has raised $2.7 million overall for not-for-profits in Indianapolis; Louisville; Ann Arbor; Minneapolis; St. Louis; and Washington, D.C. Indiana not-for-profits in Marion and surrounding counties have raised more than $1.94 million for their missions. Some of those dollars have benefitted Hamilton County charities.
Beth Gelhausen, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Hamilton County, said that organization participated in 2014.
“It was great exposure for the organization and we did raise some money. I would have liked to have gone further, but we just didn’t have the donor depth needed.”
Gelhausen said Meals on Wheels made it to the second round before being eliminated.
“I would like to do it again,” she said. “Our social media presence is much better than it was in 2014 and I believe that we would be much more successful with our participation.”
Norma Knecht, marketing director of the Humane Society of Hamilton County, said her organization has successfully participated in the past and will be competing again in 2017.
“This fundraiser is competitive, strategic and interactive,” Knecht said. “We are in the process of finding team members now.”
Technology and Philanthropy
The selection process is called the Regular Season Survey. When a not-for-profit goes through the application process, it fills out an extensive survey that includes information about its annual budget and the depth of its volunteer and donor resources. The multifaceted scoring also divides all the charities into four different divisions so the local, small, all-volunteer charities with tiny budgets aren’t competing against the well-established, international organizations with large endowments and millions in their annual budgets.
The tournament kicks off in late February with a Pep Rally that brings all the 64 participating charities together. They learn who they are paired with for the first round of the competition. It’s a two-hour event with fun, gifts and the not-for-profits receive promotional materials they will need to market themselves to potential donors.
That night, each not-for-profit is given access to a webpage called the Locker Room where they can manage their donations. They receive graphics, social media and a Brackets email address. Other components of the program also have sports-related names, such as the Playbooks, which give participating charities sample social media posts, and instructs them in marketing their organizations and how to recruit donors.
The tournament always runs concurrent with the NCAA’s March Madness tournament to capitalize on the excitement of the fans that surround the college basketball games.
“Our mission is to help people discover and participate in philanthropy,” McIntyre said. “We take the power of what sport did for Butler and merge it with technology and philanthropy. “
By Susan Hoskins Miller